Contrary to the glamorous image popularized by motion pictures depicting handsome vampires and their beautiful "brides," the appearance of a true vampire in folklore is grotesque, a nightmarish creature of the undead with twisted fangs and grasping talons. After Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (1897) became a popular stage play, and, in 1931, a classic horror film, the image of the vampire as a hideous demon was transformed into an attractive stranger who possesses a bite that, while fatal, also promises eternal life. The vampire of legend, a demonic presence, wrapped in a rotting burial shroud, intent only on sating its blood-lust, was forgotten and replaced by the beguilingly romantic figures that have appeared ever since in films and popular novels.
The cinematic depiction of the vampire in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) presented a much more accurate characterization of the traditional vampire. In this film actor Max Schreck's loathsome bloodsucker creeps about in the shadows with dark-ringed, hollowed eyes, pointed devil ears, and hideous fangs. With his long, blood-stained talons, his eggshaped head, and his pasty white complexion, Schreck's Nosferatu looks more like the creature of the undead as seen in the collective nightmares of humankind throughout the centuries. E. Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire, released on December 29, 2000, teased audiences with the unsettling suggestion that the monstrous Nosferatu (Willem Dafoe) who assumed the title role in the classic film by F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich) was actually portrayed by a real vampire, rather than an actor.
The vampire legend is universal, and every culture has its own name for the monster. The word itself rises from the slavonic Magyar— vam, meaning blood; pir, meaning monster. To cite only a few other appellations for the vampire from different languages, there is the older English variation, vampyr; the Latin, sanguisuga; Serbian, vampir; Russian, upyr; Polish, Upirs; and the Greek, Brucolacas. From the villages of Uganda, Haiti, to the Upper Amazon, all indigenous people know the vampire in its many guises. Traditional Native American medicine priests, Arctic Eskimo shamen, and Polynesian Kahuna all know the vampire and take precautions against those who were once human who are now undead and seek blood by night to sustain their dark energies.
With each succeeding generation, the dark powers of the vampire have grown. His hypnotic powers have become irresistible, and his strength is that of a dozen men. He can transform himself into the form of a bat, a rat, an owl, a fox, and a wolf. He is able to see in the dark and to travel on moonbeams and mist. Sometimes, he has the power to vanish in a puff of smoke.
Over the centuries certain precautions have been determined, such as liberally applying wolfbane and sprigs of wild garlic at every door and window. A crucifix can be worn about one's neck and placed prominently on several walls. And if people are truly serious about putting a stop to the nocturnal predator, they can hunt down his grave or coffin and place thereon a branch of the wild rose to keep him locked within. If that doesn't work,
In 1982, parapsychologist Stephen Kaplan, director of the Vampire Research Center in Elmhurst, New York, discovered a vampire subculture living among the general population. Kaplan estimated that there were approximately 21 "real" vampires living secretly in the United States and Canada. He spoke to many of these self-professed creatures of the night, some of whom claimed to be as old as 300 years, and he established the demographics of vampires, placing Massachusetts in the lead with three; followed by Arizona, California, and New Jersey, with two each; and the remaining 15 vampires scattered throughout the other states and provinces.
Today, with the ever-growing popularity of the Gothic movements, the various vampire role-playing games, the continuing bestselling status of the Anne Rice vampire novels, and the high ratings of television series based on vampires and the occult, it would be an impossible task to estimate the current population of those who define themselves as some facet of the term "vampire," or to establish any but the most approximate demographics. Millions of readers and viewers have agreed with Rice that the vampire is a romantic, enthralling figure. The author's major vampire character, Lestat de Lioncourt, and her series of books in the "Vampire Chronicles" series, portray the undead as far from grotesque, shroud-wrapped monsters. Rice has stated that she perceives the vampire as an individual who never dies, who exerts a charm over people, then accepts their blood as a sacrifice that he might live. In her opinion, the image of the vampire is alluring, attractive, seductive, and the idea of being sacrificed to keep such an entity alive becomes rather romantic.
In the November 24, 2000, issue of The New York Times, Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson reported on the city's vampire scene that has been going strong since the mid-1990s and the many nightclubs that cater to the "daylight-challenged" in their article, "Vampires: Painting the Town Red." The journalists describe the activities in "dens" where as many as 300 "undead heads" dance, drink, and make merry late into the night. The dress code in such establishments is "gothic," "dark-fetish," "faerie," "Wiccan," or "Celtic" and the overwhelmingly predominant color of the clothing is black. On the "rare occasion" when a patron of these vampire havens smiles, Mittelbach and Crewdson noted, one can make out "the glint of white fangs."
Other researchers have discovered that these "Human Living Vampires" believe that they require blood in order to function at their highest level of proficiency. They realize that they are not really immortal beings, but they may feel that they have extrasensory abilities that border on the supernatural that are accentuated with the ingestion of human blood. Most often the vital fluid is obtained from willing donors who permit the vampires to make small cuts or punctures in their flesh and lick or suck the blood.
The vast majority of those enthralled by the vampire lifestyle are those young people who find dressing the part of an attractive and seductive member of the undead appeals to their romantic sensibilities. For them it is like being able to dress up for Halloween at least one night per week all year long.
While role-playing as vampires and victims may be considered quite harmless as long as the participants know when to draw the line between fantasy and reality, those who cross the boundaries of mental abnormality into blood fetishism and obsessive blood-drinking may gradually develop a psychosis that can force them to mutilate or even kill others. On February 1, 2002, a 23-year-old woman who said that she became a vampire in London, then murdered a man in Germany and drank his blood, was jailed for the crime.
According to psychologists, the true lair of the vampire must be sought in the hidden recesses of the human mind, rather than in secluded burial vaults. The desire to assume the guise of a vampire, is highly suggestive of pathologically immature, dependent personalities, who cannot fend for themselves in normal everyday living, but who must attach themselves to a more productive personality, just as the vampire attaches itself to those hosts on whose blood it feeds. Such individuals almost always subconsciously desire to return to the state of complete dependence characteristic of the prenatal state. Psychoanalysts often discover that in those pathological cases in which subjects believe themselves to be vampires the grave or coffin comes to symbolize the womb. The vampire's dependence upon the grave or coffin as a place of safety seems again to betray a deep longing for the prenatal security of the womb. The act of sucking a victim's blood is in itself significant, for many psychologists state that such an act would be a sign of mother-fixation.